WW1 and the GAA - Barney Hennessy
Barney Hennessy, Graiguecullen, Carlow and Laois
(1884 – 1969)
While many GAA players were amongst the thousands of Irish people who enlisted to fight with the British in World War 1, few achieved the legendary status of Barney Hennessy of Graiguecullen, a hero of both Carlow and Laois, both of whom he captained over a long career. His status as a supreme footballer was initially flagged following his key role in Carlow’s march to the inaugural Leinster Junior Football Championship in 1905, where they lost narrowly to Westmeath.
By the time Carlow reached their next Leinster final in 1912, Barney had been playing rugby for a few years with Carlow Football Club at Oak Park. He was one of the most colourful players of this era. He was a player of massive size and endowed with exceptional speed. He had attracted the attention of international selectors when war broke out across Europe.
When Carlow reached the 1913 All Ireland Junior final, played in July 1914, they were boosted by the return of the Graiguecullen giant for their clash with Kerry. In spite of leading by 2 points at half time, they went under to the Munster champions who scored 4 unanswered points in the second half.
When Carlow won their 2nd Leinster Junior title in 1923, defeating Dublin by 2-5 to 1-1 , their captain and greatest player was Barney Hennessy.
In between, however, Barney had joined the Connaught Rangers and fought in France. He survived the horrors of what was until that point, the most devastating war in history. A reporter with the Laois Nationalist stated in January 1916: “a special word of praise is due to the redoubtable Barney whom all Gaels in the county were glad to see back safe and sound after doing his best for 15 months in the trenches”. The spectre of World War I was all too clear.
Carlow-Graigue were the dominant force in Carlow club football in the mid 1920s. Barney featured on the team that defeated Milford in the 1925 County final, a match that passed off without incident. However, the following year’s final and its aftermath had consequences which continue to this day. Close to the finish of the game, with Milford leading, a row broke out which led to the suspension of Carlow-Graigue for 2 years. Kilkenny born Bob O’Keeffe, Leinster Council Secretary and Laois GAA official, invited Graiguecullen into the Laois championship to which they responded by winning it at the first time of asking in 1927!
Barney went on to represent Laois and to captain them, as he had previously done with Carlow. He also gained provincial honours with Leinster.
'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. 1972. by P. MacSuibhne.
The Barney Hennessy Golf Society web page.
Prof. Paul Horan, Carlow and Trinity College